The Palestinians will renew a bid to upgrade their status at the United Nations, a move which could strengthen their statehood claims after talks with Israel stalled.
Palestinians are listed as a UN observer “entity” with no voting rights. They will ask to be made a non-member observer state at the UN General Assembly on Thursday.
Such status would be an indirect recognition of their claims on statehood in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. It would allow them to join a number of UN agencies, as well as the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The Palestinians say Israeli settlement-building on occupied West Bank land has stymied prospects for a bilateral statehood deal. Disagreement over the issue led to negotiations stalling in 2010.
Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee member, described the bid as a “last-ditch effort”.
“We believe the two-state solution is in jeopardy because of [Israeli] actions. We want to ensure that the world is still committed to the establishment of a sovereign viable democratic free Palestinian state to interact as an equal,” she said on Wednesday.
A simple majority vote in the 193-member General Assembly would be enough to bestow non-member observer status, bypassing the Security Council – where the US, Israel’s ally, has a veto.
A similar campaign by the Palestinians last year proved short-lived amid opposition from Israel and the US, which said a Palestinian state should be founded in agreement with Israel.
France said on Tuesday it would vote in favour of Palestinian non-member status, an important boost in Palestinian efforts to secure greater international recognition.
The Palestinians have lobbied for support from European countries for their bid. While Israel has lobbied against them, the Palestinians are set for a sure victory in the 193-member world body made up mostly of developing countries long sympathetic to their cause.
“This Thursday or Friday, when the question is asked, France will vote yes,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced in the French National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.
“It is only with negotiations between the two sides that we demand immediately without any preconditions that a Palestinian state can become a reality,” he said.
Palestinian officials keen on solidifying as much European favour as they can in the hours before the vote have indicated they will not immediately seek to accede to the ICC, addressing a last international concern.
Israeli, British and US diplomats, apparently realising that they can no longer sway the Palestinians’ in their whole bid, are now seeking guarantees that Palestinians would forego filing complaints against Israel in the court.
Palestinian officials have refused. But, appearing to balance their tone, they said the timing and strategy of their eventual ICC accession is a matter for later internal discussion.
“It is our right, and we will not abandon it. We will decide on the proper timing, given our priorities and best interests,” Ashrawi said.
“It’s not for any country to get the Palestinians to relinquish their rights. And if Israel is innocent, it has nothing to fear from the court,” she told the Reuters news agency.
Britain, which in recent weeks had pushed European countries to abstain on the statehood vote, has requested that Palestinians renounce applying to the ICC in return for changing the British vote to a “yes”.
The ICC is not an official organ of the United Nations, but generally accepts applications from its members.
Israel has at times cancelled visits by officials to Britain out of fear of war crimes litigation there. It is concerned that future Palestinian claims at the court could focus on its leaders and undermine its standing abroad.
One envoy from a European country as yet undecided how it will vote said Palestinian hints were “unlikely to be sufficient” to win broad European backing.
“A vague promise not to go to the ICC won’t cut it,” he said.
‘Yes’ vote on the rise
Israel and the US condemn the UN bid, saying the only genuine route to statehood for the Palestinians is via a peace agreement made in direct talks with Israel.
Peace talks, however, have been stalled for two years over the issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which have expanded despite being deemed illegal by most of the world.
Israel and the US have discussed withholding aid and tax revenue that the Palestinian government in the West Bank needs to survive. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has also viewed options that include bringing down Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas said he is ready for an unconditional resumption of peace talks with Israel following a successful bid.
On Tuesday, a senior Israeli official told reporters that Israel would act cautiously, just as Palestinian negotiators said the number of countries indicating their decisions to vote “yes” was on the rise.
France has indicated its support, while Palestinian envoys say Ireland, Malta, Portugal and Luxembourg have conveyed their intention to vote “Yes”, leaving Germany and the Czech Republic among the few possible “No” votes.
European countries were split in voting for a successful Palestinian bid to join the UN cultural agency UNESCO in October 2011. They appear to be leaning more closely toward supporting the Palestinian statehood bid in recent days.
“We support Palestinians’ right to self-determination, without prejudicing good relations between Israel and the Palestinians and talks to ultimately solve the conflict,” a European diplomat whose country supports the bid told Reuters.
“European countries have made an investment, politically and economically, in a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living in security with each other. We have an interest in moving that vision forward,” the diplomat said.
European countries are eager to empower moderates, analysts say, following a bloody eight-day conflict this month between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“If you add up the political calculations, nobody’s willing to cut off their money and undermine Abu Mazen [Abbas] or his government,” said Ramallah-based political commentator and former government spokesperson Diana Buttu.